Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tools for the Journey #14 - Ubuntu

Ubuntu ([ùɓúntʼú]; English: /ʊˈbʊntuː/ uu-buun-too).
Ubuntu means what makes us human is the humanity we show each other.

It is a Xhosa (South African) word and philosophy emphasizing community, sharing and generosity. Many parts of Africa have a similar word with the same definition and spirit.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains:

"Ubuntu is about the essence of being human. A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance which comes from knowing they belong to a greater whole. We believe a person is a person through another person; my humanity is caught up, bound up inextricably with yours. When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms and therefore we seek to work for the common good because our humanity comes into its own in belonging. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas the truth is we are connected and what we do affects the whole world."

The concept of Ubuntu runs counter to the die-hard Western creed of individualism. Our Western society bases so much of its values on the "Marlboro Man", solitary mindset...the lone cowboy riding the range. However the best of who we are as a people, as a community, shines brightest during times when we pull together.

There are responsibilities (and yes, hassles) which undoubtedly come with our interconnectedness, but there are many treasures associated with the same. Our true power lies in what we can do together as families, as neighbors, as communities, and as a human tribe.

Archbishop Tutu describes this perspective,

"Ubuntu is not, "I think therefore I am." It says rather: "I am a human being because I belong. I participate. I share." In essence, I am because you are."

Thinking back on the events of September 11, 2001, I am heart-full of those who gave their lives that day. Along with a nation, I cried on September 11, 2001 and every September 11th since then. I weep both for what was lost, but also in gratitude for what we gained. Ubuntu was alive and well and working overtime on 9/11/2001.

The unspeakable, horrible acts of terror witnessed on 9/11 were only overshadowed by the rising up of people around our country, the steely determination that we would pull together, we would help out, lend a hand, get our hands dirty, put differences aside and all for a common cause against an unfathomable evil which landed in our country that terrible day.

Most of us remember for weeks afterward people were kinder, friendlier, more tolerant and more patient with each other. I remember how it felt in those days and weeks after 9/11...I was deeply moved by the profound sense of connectedness to my human family during those times. Now my annual practice each September is to remind myself of those feelings, bring myself back into a place where I am freshly aware of my interconnectedness because in the final analysis what else is there really?

Life is messy; it just is. It is not a question of IF there will be some sort of "train wreck" in our midst, but only a matter of when. This isn't a tidy life no matter how much we try to make it so; it is a messy, painful, beautiful, breathtaking, heartbreaking, gorgeous, torturous and splendid life. People we love die; things don't always work out, we get hurt along the way and really bad things can and do happen to very good people. But we are all in this together and with this awareness of Ubuntu, I am better able to cope with my own hard times and more prepared to help you through yours.

As a human tribe we thrive together, not incrementally but exponentially.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tools for the Journey #13 - All The Good You Can

Do all the good you can
By all the means you can
To all the people you can
In every place you can
At all the times you can
As long as ever you can

- John Wesley

The poem above is a precious and valued "tool" for myself and my family. It is one of the cornerstones of our family culture and indeed it is part of the ground we stand upon each day. This poem hangs framed on the wall in our living room as our family mantra and motto. As a parent I talk with my children often about what this poem means - and what it does not mean...because both points are important.

To misconstrue Mr. Wesley's message would be unfortunate, and some undoubtedly have done so.

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can...

On the surface this poem could be interpreted as giving all of oneself at all costs...but this is not my interpretation. From my eyes Mr. Wesley was referencing something deeper, he was speaking about "the place we come from" rather than "the place we are going" and this is a vital distinction. If "being of service" is foundational, if it is the place we come from then there is a nearly infinite reservoir to draw from, and as I give, as I exhale myself out to others I am not depleted. If undertaken in the proper way then in my acts of giving I am also "fed" and thus I am sustained and even renewed by these actions. Conversely, if doing all the good we can is "the place we are going" and it is not foundational then to my mind this is finite and we can easily become depleted and this is not truly being of service.

Another quote (author unknown) which goes to make clear my point is this:

Temples don't exist on the outside
One has to become a temple
And the only way to become a temple
Is to create in your interior
An immense gratitude
For all that has happened to you
For all that is happening to you
Your reserves then are incalculable, immeasurable.

So, Mr. Wesley's message, his call to action, if you will - can and should be endeavored but in order to do so we must also include ourselves in the equation. We must remember to "feed" ourselves as we endeavor to be of service to others. Sustainability is elemental, and in order to have sustainability we must work to understand the tools we receive on deeper levels...we must learn to have "new eyes" in order to see the various uses for our "tools" which may not be apparent at first glance.

If you were to take my children aside and ask them, "What is the one thing your mother says to you again and again every day?" - This is what they would tell you:

"Pay attention to the world around you."

He was using different words, but I believe Mr. Wesley was saying the same thing with his poem; in order to truly be of service one must become skilled at paying attention to the world around them.

Thus, with this daily "mantra" from their mama, and Mr. Wesley's lovely "tool", I feel confident my kids have two key pieces of how to live a happy, textured and meaningful life. If they carry with them the tools which I have passed on and they learn to recognize the tools which are uniquely their own, then no matter how long I live I know when I leave them they will be okay.

The value of any tool, any gift, is not found simply in relation to where or whom it came from as much as in how it lands in our heart and resonates with us on deeper levels no matter the source. Mr. Wesley's tool is an integral part of the fabric of my heart and it is one I endeavor to use on a daily basis in hopes of doing all the good I can while I am here.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tools for the Journey #12 - Exhale Yourself

As rusty-hued autumn colors wash over me and all around me in these days of seasonal change and dwindling light…I am reminded once again of the impermanence of life. Just as springtime is a burst of life and color and things “becoming”…there is also this season of putting things to bed, of quieting down. The garden, the patio furniture, the summer sandals and swimsuits – all tucked away for the coming colder, more inward-reflective time. The changing seasons of the year always has me mindful of the changing seasons of life. This year these thoughts are particularly laden because my precious husband has stage IV cancer. Despite his diagnosis we endeavor to reside in a place of faith rather than fear and some days we are successful…other days not so much.

Lately as I ponder thoughts of life and death I have been reflecting on some wisdom my former Aikido sensei, Wendy Palmer, gave to me many years ago:

"Your inhale is what you take in; it is the gift the World has for you. But your exhale is what you give back to the be very careful how you exhale yourself."

When we are born the very first thing we do is we inhale; we must take this first breath and it is our arrival gift from the World. The very last thing we do when we die is we exhale - we give back the gift we first took in. We come in taking but we go out giving and all the time in between those two points we have a choice about how we exhale ourselves.

As I have walked through my daily life in all the years since Wendy was my sensei I have worked to stay mindful of my exhale. However, these days I have a significantly heightened awareness; I am attempting to stay centered, grounded as I watch Paul valiantly fighting this horrid disease. It is far easier to be centered when not faced with incomprehensible loss…but “Center is not referenced on loss”, Wendy would say, “it references on what is emerging and what is possible”.

So for today, for this moment I strive to stay centered and look to what is possible. To help me in my endeavor I am leaning heavily on the “tools” Wendy gave me all those years ago in a dojo in Marin County. As I pull these tools out and hold them up to the light it serves as a reminder of how even the “old tools” remain useful - have their place in the order of things - and don’t need to get tucked away even when the "seasons" change!

Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale...and the cycle goes on and on. Wendy's words echoing in my ears have value still:

"Be mindful of how you exhale yourself."

It is my wish, my hope, my fervent prayer that my exhale might one day become a “tool” which someone else will pull out and use to prop themselves up, help them through a tough season, just as Wendy’s wisdom from so many years ago is propping me up today.

Blessings on your journey!

"If the body is a light bulb and it burns out, does that mean there's no more electricity? The source of the energy remains. We can discard the body and go on. We are the source." - Joseph Campbell